Pine fired mussels with spear leaf orache

This dramatic method for cooking mussels must be as old as the hills. It imparts a fantastic flavour to this forageable shellfish. I've combined them with a delicate seashore vegetable - spear leaf orache, which is similar to spinach.




Serves 4

  • 2kg of Mussels (Make sure the mussels are clean and de-bearded. If you have foraged them yourself they will need to be thoroughly cleaned and checked over.)
  • 1 forager's basket full of very dry pine needles
  • Splash of Bowmore 12 Years Old
  • 1 Clove of garlic
  • 2 handfuls of spear leafed orache
  • 1 knob of butter
  • 1 tbls of olive oil 


Scatter a layer of malted barley over a large metal tray measuring about 40 to 50cm in diameter, set this somewhere outside.

Take the clean mussels and lay them all hinge side up and side by side in a big circle, then lay a stack of pine needles over the top about 6 to 8 inches high.

Set fire to the pine needles in several different places all up wind of the tray and give it a good blow to get it going. Make sure you have chosen a suitable place to cook your mussels as the fire is quite dramatic; I cooked ours on top of a Bowmore cask.

Once the pine needles have burnt up (5 - 10 mins) the mussels are ready to pick out. Be careful because the shells can be hot.

Place a pan over a medium heat and add the butter, olive oil and garlic. Cook the garlic for 1 minute then add the Spear leaf orache, place a lid on the pan and cook for 2 - 3 minutes. 

Add the picked pine fired mussel's and season with salt and pepper and heat through.

It's very important to cook the mussels properly, especially if you've foraged them yourself, so if in any doubt bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.

This dish is lovely served in clean oyster shells.

Foraging Tip:

Spear-leaved orache is one of many spinach-like wild foods. It is common on beaches but also in allotment gardens as a persistent weed. Another, more familiar species, is fat hen - bane of the vegetable gardener it should be cooked and not thrown on the compost heap! For those who love seaside foraging, sea beet is the one to go for - succulent and sweet it puts spinach to shame.

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